GUWAHATI, June 26 - Even as the big cat has made a successful comeback to the Manas National Park with the latest count confirming the presence of 18 tigers, disturbing developments continue to pose a serious threat to the Manas landscape.
While habitat loss, wildlife fatalities, unregulated tourism, water unavailability, etc., have been persistent banes for long, the latest threat � according to conservationists � comes in the form of a recent proposal by the Government of India to have a highway constructed along the Indo-Bhutan international border.
�The implications that such a linear structure may have on the fragile ecological balance of the Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Area (TraMCA) landscape comprising Manas National Park, Royal Manas National Park, Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary and Jomotshangkha Wildlife Sanctuary are grave to say the least. Such permanent barriers would bifurcate the contiguous habitats and adversely affect wildlife, which in turn will bring in severe ecological affects, including water availability and agriculture regimes of the TraMCA region,� a senior National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) official told The Assam Tribune. The latest report on joint monitoring of tigers in Manas and Royal Manas identified 21 individual tigers in the study area covering some 600 sq km of India and Bhutan Manas in TraMCA.
�The study found four individual tigers that are common to Bhutan and India Manas, indicating that connectivity is crucial in the TraMCA region to protect tiger as well as other biodiversity of the area. A previous study in the TraMCA in 2011-12 reported 14 individual tigers,� the official said.
Wildlife experts also believe that effective management of the trans-boundary landscape across the international boundary from river Sankosh in the west to the river Dhansiri in the east will determine the long-term conservation success of a vast forested area. Of these, Manas Tiger Reserve � the core area of which forms the Manas National Park � has suffered maximum damage due to encroachment, illegal logging and development activities. In fact, the Tiger Reserve has already lost about 40 per cent of its forest cover since it was declared a Tiger Reserve in 1973.
While Manas National Park and Royal Manas National Park have a joint trans-border management mechanism in the form of sharing of information, monitoring of wildlife movement, etc., the initiative has fallen short of yielding the desires results as it is yet to have legal sanction from the government.
�We have been following the joint protocol on trans-boundary management for the past six years but the mechanism needs formal endorsement from the Government of India to make it stronger. The recent NTCA meeting in Delhi made a representation to the government in this regard and we are hopeful of a positive response,� HK Sharma, Field Director, Manas Tiger Reserve, said.
Sharma added that from a count of 13 adult tigers in Manas in 2015, the latest count in 2016 yielded the presence of 18 adult tigers.
Sharma said that joint trans-border management with tiger conservation as an umbrella for accentuating the overall conservation status of the area could bring in long-term dividends. �Areas like elephant conservation, leopard and ungulate species monitoring, restoration of habitat, control of invasive species, etc., all need our joint focus. The idea of jointly monitoring elephants by radio collaring is already finding favour from both India and Bhutan,� he added.